Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cheese for a Wednesday - pt 24 Breakfast Cheese!

It's been quite a week.  As nice as my dentist and periodontist are, I'm still terrified of the dentist's chair.    Lucky for you, this blog is about cheese and not about excruciating dental work that includes extractions and implants.  Sadly, however, my tender gums haven't been up for anything other than soup and soft, soft, soft food that can be easily chewed on one side of the mouth only.  I haven't really been eating cheese since last Tuesday's Loire Valley cheese orgy.  That has probably been more torturous than the healing process!

Anyway, I finally got bored enough to dive back in to the wonderful world of cheese, and decided to start with breakfast.  Why not?  It's the most important meal of the day!

That adorable little white hockey puck (above) is actually an incredibly soft, delicious French goat cheese from the Midi Pyrennes called Cabecou.  I know that Man Who Sneers at Goats (Cheese) won't like it no matter what I say, but this little cheese is so mild, sweet and spreadable that I knew it would be perfect for a woman sporting a bit more exposed gum than usual.  The goats who help make this cheese nibble on hawthorne, mulberry and juniper leaves, making delicious, complex milk and a cheese perfect on english muffin with a little honey and an espresso.  The flavor is subtle, and there isn't any of the "tang" that MWSAG(C) hates so much in goat cheese.

I tend to only think about cheese after dark, or in an elaborate omlette at Sunday brunch.  The closest to a simple cheese breakfast I usually get is a tub of cream cheese and a bagel.  If I could afford to have a refrigerator full of Cabecou, every morning would be as delightful as this one was!

How/when do you eat cheese for breakfast?  Let's start a revolution!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cheese for a Wednesday - pt 23 Celebrate Goat Cheese!

With all due respect to my dear friend, Man Who Sneers at Goats (Cheese), I just had a fabulous evening with my Darling Husband (who does not sneer at goat cheese) tasting many different goat cheeses from the Loire Valley at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills.  Just look at that bounty!  In the coming week or so, I'll be highlighting a few, thanks to the 10% discount you get for shopping for cheese after the equivalent of three-four glasses of wine. (Never underestimate the power of the drunken shopping spree at the cheese store!)

While MWSAG(C) may sneer at goat cheese, it is remarkable how many different flavors can come from lowly goat milk.  I also love the many shapes goat cheese comes in.  In front here (and obviously a goat cheese b/c of the cute goat on the label) is the grassy, and only slightly barnyardy La Florette, which is a perfect goat equavalent of Brie.  The big log is Bucheron, which has a dry, delicately sour flavor that would go wonderfully in a pasta with sauteed rapini or other "bitter green" and some sun dried tomato.  The four leaf clover is the Chevre Feuille, a true goat cheese with a tangy, almost ammonia scent that is made much more palatable by a slightly acidic Cabernet Franc.  The cute little nugget is a "La Bonde d'Antan" from the Poitou region (as are the others I've pointed out).  This one is quited well aged, hard and flakey.  you could probably paint it black and use it as a hockey puck for a few minutes!  I would much rather enjoy it with a little apple/vanilla jam.

Goat cheese is just so versatile.  It can be sweet, it can be tangy.  It can be mild and accessible, but it can also be complex and difficult to appreciate without careful pairing.  It is also great to serve to your friends who can't process cow's milk.  There are so many varieties out there - both from the Loire Valley and much closer to home.  Last week's Wabash Cannonball comes to mind!

Do you have a favorite goat cheese?  Let me know!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Alternative Valentine's Day Cheese - go stinky!

Ah yes, Valentine's Day.  A day of panic for men everywhere.  A day of hopeless expectations for everyone, in a relationship or not!  Might I recommend cheese as an alternative to chocolates (or perhaps as a first course to chocolates)?

I was going to introduce you to an herb crusted Corsican cheese called Brin d'Amour.  I mean - it's the obvious choice, right?  French love cheese.  But really, isn't that a bit tooo obvious?  Maybe I'll save that one for a time of year that needs a little extra love.  Instead, I'd like to suggest that in the same way that two lovers can share a plate of garlic pasta and share the bad breath, they can share some incredibly rich and pungent blue cheese with the appropriate accessories for an alternative, and creative cheese course.  Darling Husband and I tested this out tonight with a powerful Spanish Cabrales.

Look at the incredible blue marbling!  The amount of penicillium mold in this paste makes it very tangy and sharp, but with a dark sweetness hiding underneath.  This is a very rich cheese, and a bit challenging on its own.  When I did the initial nibble, I was almost overpowered, as was DH.  The goal for tonight was to remember to do pairings and not just gobble the cheese off the board, and so when a bit of honey was drizzled on the cheese which was softly spread on the bread everything just popped!  The underlying sweetness of the cheese came back to the surface, and was so much more accessible to the palate.  Dried apricots and a little port rounded out this perfect little dessert.

Enjoy your weekend with those you love.  Share a laugh, create a memory, and if you do it with cheese, all's the better!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cheese for a Wednesday - pt 22.5 Johnny Cash edition

As promised - video!!!  I believe that even people who don't like country music can't help but start tapping their feet when they hear Johnny Cash and the Carter sisters.  Feel free to disagree.  Did you know that the Carter Family were the first to sing Wabash Cannonball back in 1929?  Did you know that Capriole Dairy's Wabash Cannonball goat cheese was one of the first prize winning American cheeses back in 1995 - practically the dark ages in American cheese years?

Anyway, I've been waiting to share the Wabash Cannonball with you ever since New Year's eve when this was the "sympathy cheese" for my lactose intolerant friend who couldn't partake of the orgy of Emmenthaler, but whose delicate system is fine with goat cheese.  I was immediately chagrined by the fact I had promised to let him eat the whole thing and took back my promise - helping myself to two crackers worth for myself.

This little cheese is a perfect single serving cheese.  I would absolutely serve one per person (or perhaps one per couple) at an elegant dinner party.  At approximately 3 ounces, it's a little bigger than a golf ball.  If you are familiar with antique firearms, you might also see the similarity to a Civil War era small cannon ball due to its coating of vegetable ash.  But far from being a sad reminder of the War Between the States, this Wabash Cannonball is rich, tangy and crumbly, with just a hint of lemon.  The cheese makers at Capriole Dairy in Southern Indiana suggest it for dessert, served with figs or a simple syrup infused with lavender and vanilla bean.  It sounds like an elegant juxtaposition of tangy and sweet - a complex explosion of flavor.  I think a nice espresso or mint tea might really complete a final course.  Unfortunately, I read that suggestion well after having scarfed it down dry with crackers.  I always seem to forget the accompaniments.  Next time!

The legend behind Capriole Dairy is wonderful as well.  In an attempt to get back to the land and live a more sustainable life, the cheesemakers ended up buying property in S. Indiana that had belonged to the husband's great great grandfather many years before.  They built their home on the same spot where the original log cabin had been.  A really lovely story, I think.  A fine pairing for a lovely cheese.

Sweet cheese dreams all!  (and for those sticklers out there - please note that I'm posting at 11:06 PST on Wednesday, so I still haven't officially missed a Wednesday cheese!  Wish me luck on Friday for another exciting dentist encounter....

Cheese for a Wednesday - pt 22 It might be a Thursday cheese

For the first time since Wednesday cheese began, I've run into massive time constraints and might not be sharing my Wednesday cheese till Thursday.  So sorry!  Between the Darling Husband's birthday, fun with accountants (not!), and a broken tooth requiring me to go to the dentist for the first time in 7 years (I know, I know.  Sorry Mom!), I just don't think it's going to happen today.  Nobody is more distraught about this than I am, so rest assured that it is coming, probably tomorrow.  There might even be video! 

Much love and many cheeses!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Super Bowl Snacking!

Who dat?  Oh yeah baby.  I speak football.  I don't watch a lot of football, but when I do, I get kind of involved.  And, I tend to eat a lot of crap while I watch the game - chips, spinach dip (my favorite!!), nuts, more chips - nothing fancy.  I used to eat chili until the chili-maker retired from the business.  Since I'm now the cheese lady, I figured I could make this Super Bowl even more exciting with some great cheese.  The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills was actually a Super Bowl sale - 10% off if you said "Who Dat" when ordering cheese.  They were also closing early so they could get home, put their feed up, and root on the Saints while munching on some tasty cheese.  One of the owners is from New Orleans, so you can appreciate their enthusiasm.  I just love having another opportunity to bring cheese to a party and look like a rock star.

So, off I went to the game, cheese board cheese knives and cheeses in tow ready to share the cheese love and possibly to distract people from the game for a few minutes.  I think I succeeded, thanks in no small part to the good people at Andrew's Cheese Shop and Noord Hollander four-year old Gouda (top left with a rich orange color).  This Gouda tastes so sweet, I could chunk it up and put it in a candy bowl.  It has the crunchy texture of Parmesean thanks to the crystalization that happens during aging, and has a distinctive butterscotch flavor.

This Super Bowl is also brought to you by Marisa (top right).  This award winning sheep's milk cheese comes from Wisconsin and has a perfect sweet/salty balance.  The high butterfat content gives it a beautiful creaminess.  It is the perfect snacking cheese.

Finally, this Super Bowl is brought to you by La Serena (bottom left).  This was the "challenging" cheese, but even the 11 year-olds liked it!  This semi-soft sheep's milk cheese from Spain spreads great on a cracker when properly warmed up to room temperature.  It has a sharpness and an earthiness that makes it really interesting - one of those cheeses that make you stop and go "Huh.  What was that?"  I will need to spend more time on this one, as its backstory deserves its own post.  If you can't wait, please check out Angela's Food Love blog here for a great description.  I don't think it was as stinky as she thought, but we agree on the exciting flavor.

I think the only one disappointed by the cheese was my sweet friend Tessa (right).  Look how well she begs!  But none for her!  Sorry Tessa!  After the trophy was presented, all the La Serena was gone, and there was just enough Gouda and Marisa left for some good snacks this week.  Hooray!

No matter which team you rooted for on Sunday (or if you just don't care), I hope you had a happy, cheesy weekend!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Biotech Friday - not for the faint of heart

Recently, I've been fascinated by the idea of self-sufficient farms, perhaps in part because I've come to grips with the fact that it is highly unlikely that I will ever run a farm of my own.  That's not to say that I don't want to hang out with sheep and cows and the people who care for them.  And I'm enough of a tech geek to be fascinated with the juxtaposition between ancient animal husbandry techniques and high tech responses to current  environmental challenges. 

I've been a little obsessed with the idea of "anaerobic digestion" lately and how it can help a farm become self-sufficient.  All the non-scientific writing on the subject is a bit preoccupied with poo.   I have to admit that it is kind of fascinating that the back end of a cow can ultimately provide enough power to service all of a farm's electrical needs.  The problem is, it is a pretty complicated process, and the methane gas that is produced is highly flammable.  Luckily, the good people at Penn State's Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering have a great website to help those of us so interested to learn more about how to turn poo into power.  Using words like biogas, slurry and influent and mesophilic, they explain (and remind us) that the poo doesn't tend to go in solid, but is mixed with water to a maximum of 15% solids.  Eeew!  With a little heat, microbes in the air-tight tank break down the "slurry" or "influent" into biogas (methane and carbon dioxide) and nutrient rich "efflluent" that can ultimately be used in fertilizer. The biogas can then be sent to run generators, and the heat energy can be used to heat the "digester" or the farmhouse.  For a great case study, check out the Hillcrest Dairy Farm.  It is a really well written piece with some great photos to help you understand what's going on.

There are a variety of "digesters," but they are all sealed to keep gases in and have a way to move "slurry" through the system.  None of them can be built or run in a standard suburban backyard.  Of course, most suburban backyards don't have enough cows, sheep, goats or pigs to provide enough "influent" to make it work!

Even if you can't build one yourself, I hope that you can be just a little impressed with the ingenuity of some very modern farmers!  

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cheese for a Wednesday - pt. 21 Appeasement Cheese

I don't know how it works around your house, but if I bring treats (cheese, cupcakes, cookies, etc) into the house with the intent of serving them at a party or taking them to a friend's house, there will be some loss due to the Husband Tax.  Instead of 24 cookies, there will mysteriously be 23.  Instead of 1/4 pound of cheese, there will be 1/5 of a pound (very cleanly cut and put back into the wrapper...).  I don't mind really.  In fact, I've stopped worrying about it all together.  I just bring home a little extra something for us to enjoy together right away (I have impulse control issues too...)

So, last Friday, when I went shopping for cheese to take to meet our friends' new baby, I knew I needed something to take home and eat immediately.  When I explained my dilemma to Andrew, he laughed and called it the "appeasement cheese."  And that's just what it was.  In fact, the Brie from the Ferme de Jouvence in France could appease the most cranky troll.  A hungry husband wasn't even a challenge!

One rule about Brie:  make sure that it has warmed up to room temperature before serving, or you won't be able to taste all the complex flavors inside the bloomy rind.  (Actually, this is true for all cheese.)  The other problem with a cold Brie is that it doesn't have the requisite "gooey-ness" that my husband, and I'm sure legions of others, loves so much about cheese.  I know it's hard to wait (impulse control issues...), but it's really worth it.  In fact, do a little taste test.  Since you won't be able to wait, have a little bit right after you take it from the fridge.  See?  Meh.  Now, wait 30 minutes and try again...fireworks, right?  Told you.

This cheese is so delicious!  It is sweet and mushroomy, with just a little tang from the rind (Please eat the rind of Brie!  Have you ever seen a Brie where all the paste has been scooped out leaving the sad little rind?  Give it a try.  Just once.  It really adds to the flavor of the cheese - transforming it from just rich and buttery to rich and buttery and a little sassy!)  This particular Brie also features the amazing flavor of spring garlic - fresh and light and not enough to make you need to brush your teeth.  So much so, in fact, that I thought for a moment that our baguette was a loaf of garlic bread.  So creamy and yummy.  And when at room temperature, so gooey and spreadable.  The perfect cheese.

One more thing - as I've been kind of obsessed with self-sufficient farming of late, I'd like to briefly add that according to Andrew, this farm is completely self sufficient in energy, including the use of anaerobic digestion (from the cow patties!!).  I've promised a post on how this works, but haven't yet gotten around to doing the research.  Stay tuned!

In the meantime, keep your eyes out for artisinal Brie, full of flavor and ready to appease anyone!

Monday, February 1, 2010

What is Organic Milk, and Why Should You Care?

I've been following Ruth Reichel on Twitter for a while since I heard her speak about the demise of Gourmet Magazine, the incredible work done there during her tenure as Editor in Chief, and her thoughts on the future of food, food writing and food politics. Today, her feed led me to a great blog, Politics Of  The Plate. Food politics is definitely something that I have been thinking about for a while.  Where does our food come from?  Who makes it?  How is it made?  Is it safe?  Is it ethically produced, and what does that mean?  As the world's population grows and resources remain finate (or until we figure out how to make that Star Trek Food Replicator), I believe that these issues will remain with us, and become more and more important.

Anyway, the January 27 post on Politics of the Plate is about how big Agribusiness has taken control of the word organic. In theory, organic milk comes from cows who have "room to roam, clean air to breathe [and] fresh grass to eat."  Makes sense.  Unfortunately, the same way that most "free range" chickens probably don't have the opportunity to visit the small outdoor pen attached to the side of their giant, packed, indoor jail instead of roaming freely, pecking at grubs and enjoying sunshine on their feathers, many "organic" milk cows don't really have access to pasture in the traditional sense.  They might be outdoors, but they are probably walking around in dirt, not pasture land.  They might be eating grass, if you consider dried fodder as grass-like.  (There is one dairy that claims pastureland by laying hay on the dirt on a strip of land outside their giant barn)  They might be organic in the sense that they aren't pumped through with chemicals, but there is no way that they are the happy cows taking time to chew their cud while enjoying  a little clover, alfalfa and dandelion as part of their nutritious grass lunch we all dream of when we bite into a delicious piece of Avonlea Cheddar.

There are a few problems here that I can see (beyond the fact that it just isn't very nice to the animals!).   When big dairies are allowed to blur the lines regarding what constitutes "pastureland," dedicated family farms that have invested in their "staff" of cows and really believe and follow the tenants of organic farming just can't compete.  The cost of raising a truly happy organic cow on green pastures is astronomical compared with the cost of cows that might or might not get to go outside, and might or might not actually get to eat real grass every day.  Plus, the little guy might have 80 cows and the big guy has 2,000.  Economies of scale just don't tip in favor of the little guy.  I'm like you.  I'd love to buy the organic milk at the farmer's market, but man-o-man is it expensive.  I feel like I'm still being healthy if I'm buying Horizon brand organic milk on sale.  Problem is, buying like that is making the problem worse.  (And depending on why you are buying organic milk, you might be getting ripped off!)   (dairy image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Problem number two is an issue of taste!  I'm always writing about how I can taste the spring grass freshness in a cheese.  You can't get that if the cows don't actually eat fresh spring grass on a hillside somewhere.  If big agribusiness manages to shut down more and more small truly organic dairies, there will be less and less delicious milk lightly scented with daisies to make amazing cheese.  And that would really be a crying shame.

Anyway, there is a bill before the federal Office of Management and Budget to make the rules more specific regarding what is considered organic.  Needless to say, the big guys want to kill the bill to make a buck. Politics being what they are, who knows what will happen.  If you have time, definitely visit Politics of the Plate to learn more about what is going on, and get links to more great information.

And thanks for listening.